Thursday, November 08, 2007


Dense Chocolate Cake

I thought that I was like most people, which is to say: I thought that I was a chocolate-lover. This year has taught me that I don't especially care for it in all forms, mostly because I don't think it is always accented enough. My angelheart Eric will tell you that I scoff chocolate biscuits (cookies) if they're around, and he'd be right. But that is only because they are in the pantry, from which I have taken many a biscuit. It's not a chocolate addiction, but a habit of snacking when I need a break from trying to read and write my thesis.

In its least overworked form, which is to say melted with cream and formed into a truffle, chocolate can satisfy me. But I think that my favourite use of chocolate is in a cake or pudding. I love it to be rich in chocolate goodness and never diluted of flavour. Too many flavourings are a bad thing in my books when it comes to cooking with chocolate - and though I am sad to say it, I don't often go in for fancy truffles that incoporate every ingredient under the sun (I might however be attempted to try some of Vosges' delights, following the review by Garrett of Vanilla Garlic). I find that even a small amount of freshly ground coffee heightens the flavour of the chocolate. And I am a sucker for pairing brandy with chocolate. (I'm sure, by now, you have seen that brandy is my preferred plonk with which to bake and cook.)

You can melt chocolate on a stovetop or in a microwave. If you are going to use your stovetop, a double-boiler will need to be constructed out of a saucepan and a non-reactive bowl. Bring water in the saucepan to a boil then turn down to simmer. Place a bowl over the saucepan, into which is placed the chocolate. The bottom of the bowl should never touch the water. Chocolate melts at 30 C/95 F but burns, splits and cannot be used if it reaches or surpasses a temperature of 50 C/120 F.

Dense Chocolate Cake
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess)

225g/1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
120g bittersweet (70%) chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon coffee, freshly ground
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon brandy

1) Preheat oven to 190 C/375 F.
2) Butter and line your baking vessel. A 23 x 13cm/9 x 5" loaf pan is ideal. I used a 24cm/9" springform cake pan. I have one loaf pan, which is half the dimensions, and I didn't not want to halve the recipe for fear of seeming miserly. I couldn't think quickly enough as to what I would do with the remainder of the batter, save for eating it (I'm not above eating raw egg and flour - goodness only knows how often I ate the biscuit dough when mum wasn't looking), hence the springform pan. Place baking vessel on a lined baking sheet in case there is a bit of spillage.
3) Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
4) Beat eggs in well.
5) Fold in the melted and slightly cooled chocolate until blended, but do not overbeat because there is still more folding to come.
6) Combine coffee, flour and bicarbonate of soda.
7) Add flour and bicarb mix by the spoonful to the chocolate mix alternately with a spoonful of boiling water. This takes a while to do, folding with each addition, but it only requires patience, not technical prowess.
8) Stir in the brandy.
9) The batter will have the appearance of swamp mud - that is to say, it will look quite liquid.
10) Pour into prepared baking vessel.
11) Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 163 C/325 F to bake for a further 15 minutes.
12) The loaf will not pass a skewer test, for it is meant to be quite damp in the centre, but the outside should look done.
13) Cool completely on a rack before opening the springform pan or turning it out, if in a loaf pan.

If using a loaf pan, the cake will sink in the middle because it is damp in the centre. The photo to the left should give you an indication of that. However, the top is fairly crisp, adding a textural contrast to the interior. As much as I love brandy, any more would have been overkill; one tablespoon is enough for the cake to be slightly boozy, making it acceptable to eat before cocktail hour.

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Hey darlin', thanks for the hail. Love this cake you made and the description, might alter the flavors to make it more like a duBarry cake.
Great pictures too!
My partner is the baker in our relationship and is ALWAYS on the look out for the perfect chocolate cake recipe. Will pass this on. Thanks! :)
Shaun, I am not a chocolate lover but when I feel like having chocolate, it is always for a big slice of moist chocolate and your cake looks like it would hit the spot. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

How's the writing coming along?
Shaun, your first pic is especially effective, a trio of silvery tones as foil for that rich brown background.

This reminds me of a far less complicated version of a Reine de Saba, one I would bake b/c it is less complicated, for those lazy days when you want your quality in a hurry.

Vosges is certainly a fine chocolate bar, but some disappoint me with flavors that are more tepid than exotic. For the hefty price, I expect more consistency.
Hey Shaun, my son was in a baking mood the other night and made little chocolate souffle cakes. He was doing a bit of experimenting and made them without sugar! His substitution was almond paste. They turned out delicious and we served star fruit with a bannana sauce with them. My last post was about the fruits that we served with the cakes. I must give yours a go as I am liking the addtion of brandy! Now a piece of this cake with a glass of zinfandel would hit the spot for me! Cheers!
Your cake looks really wonderful, so moist and chocolate-y, mmmm. I like your last picture best, a real 'eat me' shot! =)
Looks delicious, Shaun! I've only tried Nigella's Store Cupboard Orange Marmalade & Chocolate cake from that book - but I've made that loads of times, so haven't even looked up her other chocolate cake recipes yet:)
Garrett ~ A pleasure to have you stop by. I've never made a DuBarry, but I like the idea of using spices with chocolate and not having to cream (the sugar is added to the melted chocolate for this cake, right?). I don't really bake a lot, but when I do, it is always something easy. I want to enjoy it ASAP.

Wendy ~ Tell your partner that if this cake sits for a day, the brandy really comes through. I always find that coffee adds real depth to chocolate, so I never make a chocolate cake without it.

Cynthia ~ Chocolate cake can save a host of worries. It was nice to have a couple of slices of this cake over a couple of days of not so heavy writing days. It felt very leisurely amongst the chaos. The writing is coming along well - I'm on track.

Susan, lovie ~ Like Garrett's DuBarry cake, I have also never made Reine de Saba, but I have read about it. What I like the sound of most is - and you can probably guess - the inclusion of almonds and almond extract. I don't recall the icing though...Is it a ganache or a chocolate-butter icing? Now that I'm thinking about it, I should plain to make that next...Thanks for the note re: Vosges; I'm going to try the truffles that please me the most from Garrett's descriptions when I am next in the US. I, too, believe in the value of consistency...

Deb ~ I know that my parents are enjoying the fact that I'm home with them this year because I've whipped up a few baked goodies for their pleasure. I love the addition of almond paste. When I lived in the US, I often substituted 1/3 of the flour for ground almonds, but since they cost so much in New Zealand (they're an imported item), I don't buy them. I love that the cake was served with star fruit. A zingy contrast to the depth of the cake.

Kelly-Jane ~ I really do prefer chocolate in cakes or puddings, especially when it is almost wet at the centre, on the verge of puddling. This cake doesn't go quite so far, but it is very damp in the centre, and there is no denying the chocolate flavour here.

Pille ~ I also like the sound of LaLawson's Chocolate-Volcano Cake, but I have yet to make that. I often flip through this book for a sweet inspiration. I think it is a strongly edited book, well-focussed and pleasing to all palates. I like the idea of marmalade and chocolate together, but I haven't had a good marmalade since I was a kid. I will have to go to a store that imports Spanish goods to get my hands on a worthy marmalade...
I feel similarly about chocolate - I like chocolate bars, love truffles and chocolate mousse, but don't like chocolate cookies or most chocolate cakes. This one looks spectacular though - I think it could turn anyone into a chocolate lover!
Shaun, that looks like my kind of cake. I think I used a similar recipe off another blog. I added cointreau. You have brandy, I have cointreau ;-) I went over board though - I must have added more than 1 tbsp. No one complained though....

My weakness is currently (actually for the last 6 years!) warm choc fondant (a mini cake with a gooey centre). I've made it so many times, but can never get a good photo of it for several reasons, mainly because I am too impatient to devour it!

p/s: I've posted about your beetroot risotto. Thanks again for the recipe and also for answering all my questions.
Actually, Shaun, I used a good supermarket marmalade (i.e. their own brand, not the value version), and it worked really well.
Your post made me think of a peculiarity of mine. I love chocolate - milk chocolate to snack on (often in outrageous quantities) and dark chocolate to accompany a cuppa. I love quite a few chocolate cakes. But I dislike chocolate muffins, especially those triple chip choc (?) ones. Have never liked them?
For the following who have left a comment, I apologise for the delay of my response.

Sara, darling ~ Yes, this cake has it all for me. It is just about the essence of chocolate. It is a breeze to make as well.

Nora B. ~ Well, if I had Cointreau on hand, I might have used that, too, or Tia Maria, Grand Marnier...Almost any booze, I suppose, but the point is that a little is almost necessary. I think it adds a little more depth and interest to the chocolate without ever over-powering it.

I made molten babycakes a couple of times, and they are quite superbly gooey and full of chocolate. Starting with chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa solids is essential for a great chocolate dessert...or breakfast ;-)

Pille ~ I'm glad, then, that your supermarket provides such great preserves. I don't know if mine will be any good since New Zealand is hardly a country famous for its preserves. I will check though, for it might be easier than going out to the country to find someone selling it on the side of the road or at an out of town market.

I just find with those triple-chocolate anything that the chocolate gets very confused. I like flavours to be very distinct, and I find that the incorporation of three chocolates (although milk chocolate isn't technically chocolate because it isn't made with cocoa solids or cocoa mass) does nothing to excite me. I love that you have different rituals for your chocolate. I sometimes have a square (or rectangle-shaped piece) of dark chocolate when I have my afternoon coffee if I haven't made anything for afternoon tea.
You guys are making me hungry. Lol.

It's Time For Winter Baseball"
Very enticing photos! Currently it's so cold and often rainy in Sydney - your cake would be exactly the thing to brighten up the day!
Mark C. ~ Foodies love to serve hungry people - we're famous for that particular generosity ;-)

Eva ~ Welcome! This cake is perfect for rainy day baking - simple, satisfying, and deep in flavour.
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